The earliest evidence for mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe

Subjects

Abstract

Microscopic analysis of backed lithic pieces from the Uluzzian technocomplex (45–40 thousand yr ago) at Grotta del Cavallo (southern Italy) reveals their use as mechanically delivered projectile weapons, attributed to anatomically modern humans. Use-wear and residue analyses indicate that the lithics were hunting armatures hafted with complex adhesives, while experimental and ethnographic comparisons support their use as projectiles. The use of projectiles conferred a hunting strategy with a higher impact energy and a potential subsistence advantage over other populations and species.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Locations of the Uluzzian findings in Italy and on the Balkan Peninsula.
Fig. 2: Backed pieces from Grotta del Cavallo showing DIFs and MLITs, and sampling of residues on backed pieces by FTIR spectroscopy and its results.

Data availability

The authors declare that data supporting the findings of this study are available in the paper and the Supplementary Information.

References

  1. 1.

    Moroni, A. et al. J. Anthr. Sci. 96, 125–160 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Zanchetta, G., Giaccio, B., Bini, M. & Sarti, L. Quat. Sci. Rev. 182, 65–77 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Giaccio, B., Hajdas, I., Isaia, R., Deino, A. & Nomade, S. Sci. Rep. 7, 45940 (2017).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    d’Errico, F., Borgia, V. & Ronchitelli, A. Quat. Int. 259, 59–71 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Moroni, A., Boscato, P. & Ronchitelli, A. Quat. Int. 316, 27–44 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Palma di Cesnola, A. Riv. Sci. Preist. 21, 3–59 (1966).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Fischer, A., Hansen, P. V. & Rasmussen, P. J. Dan. Archaeol. 3, 19–46 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Sano, K. & Oba, M. J. Archaeol. Sci. 63, 13–23 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Bradtmöller, M., Sarmiento, A., Perales, U. & Zuluaga, M. C. J. Archaeol. Sci. Rep. 7, 1–13 (2016).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Yaroshevich, A., Kaufman, D., Nuzhnyy, D., Bar-Yosef, O. & Weinstein-Evron, M. J. Archaeol. Sci. 37, 368–388 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Goldstein, S. T. & Shaffer, C. M. Archaeol. Anthr. Sci. 9, 1767–1788 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Thomas, D. H. Am. Antiq. 43, 461–472 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Shott, M. J. Am. Antiq. 62, 86–101 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Wadley, L. J. Hum. Evol. 49, 587–601 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Cattelain, P. Bull. Soc. Préhist. Fr. 86, 213–216 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Rust, A. Die alt- und Mittelsteinzeitlichen Funde von Stellmoor (Karl Wachholtz, 1943).

  17. 17.

    Stodiek, U. Zur Technologie der Jungpaläolithischen Speerschleuder: Eine Studie auf der Basis Archäologischer, Ethnologischer und Experimenteller Erkenntnis (Archaeologica Venatoria, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Universität Tübingen, 1993).

  18. 18.

    Thieme, H. & Veil, S. Ldkr. Verden Kunde 36, 11–58 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Villa, P., Boscato, P., Ranaldo, F. & Ronchitelli, A. J. Archaeol. Sci. 36, 850–859 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Shea, J. J. J. Archaeol. Sci. 33, 823–846 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Metz, L. in Le Troisième Homme Préhistoire de l’Altaï 156–160 (Musée National de la Préhistoire, 2017).

  22. 22.

    Slimak, L. Quat. Sci. Rev. 217, 330–339 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Villa, P. & Soriano, S. J. Anthropol. Res. 66, 5–38 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Wadley, L. & Mohapi, M. J. Archaeol. Sci. 35, 2594–2605 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Zilhão, J., Banks, W. E., d’Errico, F. & Gioia, P. PLoS ONE 10, e0131181 (2015).

  26. 26.

    Benazzi, S. et al. Nature 479, 525–528 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Heptner, V. G., Nasimovich, A. A. & Bannikov, A. G. Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol. 1 (Smithsonian Institution Libraries, National Science Foundation, 1988).

  28. 28.

    Lew-Levy, S., Reckin, R., Lavi, N., Cristóbal-Azkarate, J. & Ellis-Davies, K. Hum. Nat. 28, 367–394 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Milks, A., Parker, D. & Pope, M. Sci. Rep. 9, 820 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Tringham, R., Cooper, G., Odell, G., Voytek, B. & Whitman, A. J. Field Archaeol. 1, 171–196 (1974).

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Odell, G. H. & Odell-Vereecken, F. J. Field Archaeol. 7, 87–120 (1980).

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Odell, G. H. J. Field Archaeol. 8, 197–209 (1981).

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Akoshima, K. in The Human Uses of Flint and Chert: Proc. Fourth International Flint Symposium Held at Brighton Polytechnic 10-1 April 1983 (eds Sieveking, G. D. & Newcomer, M. H.) 71–79 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987).

  34. 34.

    Keeley, L. H. Experimental Determination of Stone Tool Uses: A Microwear Analysis (Univ. Chicago Press, 1980).

  35. 35.

    Vaughan, P. C. Use-Wear Analysis of Flaked Stone Tools (Univ. Arizona Press, 1985).

  36. 36.

    Van Gijn, A. L. The Wear and Tear of Flint: Principles of Functional Analysis Applied to Dutch Neolithic Assemblages (Univ. Leiden, 1990).

  37. 37.

    Sano, K. Functional Variability in the Late Upper Palaeolithic of North-Western Europe (Rudolf Habelt, 2012).

  38. 38.

    Lombard, M. J. Archaeol. Sci. 35, 26–41 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Pargeter, J. J. Archaeol. Sci. 40, 4056–4065 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Sano, K. Quartär 56, 67–86 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Pargeter, J. J. Archaeol. Sci. 38, 2882–2888 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Moss, E. H. & Newcomer, M. H. Stud. Praehist. Belg. 2, 289–312 (1982).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Geneste, J. M. & Plisson, H. in Before Lascaux: The Complex Record of the Early Upper Paleolithic (eds. Knecht, H. et al.) 117–135 (CRC, 1993).

  44. 44.

    Lupi, S. et al. J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 24, 959–964 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Petrea, P., Amarioarei, G., Apostolescu, N., Puitel, A. C. & Ciovica, S. Cell. Chem. Technol. 47, 369–375 (2013).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Socrates, G. in Infrared and Raman Characteristic Group Frequencies Tables and Charts (ed. Socrates, G.) 283–340 (Wiley, 2001).

  47. 47.

    van der Marel, H. W. & Krohmer, P. Contr. Mineral. Petrol. 22, 73–82 (1969).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Espinosa-Andrews, H., Sandoval-Castilla, O., Vazquez-Torres, H., Vernon-Carter, E. J. & Lobato-Calleros, C. Carbohydr. Polym. 79, 541–546 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Fleet, M. E. Biomaterials 30, 1473–1481 (2009).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Sierralta, M., Frechen, M. & Urban, B. in Die Chronologische Einordnung der Paläolithischen Fundstellen von Shöningen: Forschungen zur Urgeschichte aus dem Tagebau von Schöningen Band 1 (ed. Behre, K.-E.) 143–154 (Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, 2012).

  51. 51.

    Urban, B. & Sierralta, M. in Die Chronologische Einordnung der Paläolithischen Fundstellen von Shöningen: Forschungen zur Urgeschichte aus dem Tagebau von Schöningen Band 1 (ed. Behre, K.-E.) 77–96 (Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, 2012).

  52. 52.

    Richter, D. & Krbetschek, M. J. Hum. Evol. 89, 46–56 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Thieme, H. Nature 385, 807–810 (1997).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Thieme, H. in The Hominid Individual in Context: Archaeological Investigations of Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Landscapes, Locales and Artefacts (eds Gamble, C. & Porr, M.) 115–132 (Routledge, 2005).

  55. 55.

    Cattelain, P. in Projectile Technology (ed. Knecht, H.) 213–240 (Plenum, 1997).

  56. 56.

    Hughes, S. S. J. Archaeol. Method Theory 5, 345–408 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Pétillon, J.-M. et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. 38, 1266–1283 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Shea, J. J. & Sisk, M. L. Paleoanthropology 2010, 100–122 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Sisk, M. L. & Shea, J. J. Int. J. Evolut. Biol. 2011, 1–8 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Waelbroeck, C. et al. Quat. Sci. Rev. 21, 295–305 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Brindisi, Lecce e Taranto and especially M. Piccarreta and S. Strafella for supporting our research at Grotta del Cavallo. Special thanks are due to A. P. di Cesnola and P. Gambassini for giving us the opportunity to revisit the Uluzzian materials from their excavations. We thank L. Sarti for providing the base planimetry of Grotta del Cavallo. We also acknowledge Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste for providing synchrotron radiation facilities (proposal no. 20180262) and the Weizmann Institute of Science for providing the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science Infrared Standards Library. Finally, we thank I. Corsi for providing contacts between the University of Siena and Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste. This research was supported by a grant from the European Research Council (ERC-724046, SUCCESS; http://www.erc-success.eu/). K.S. was supported by MEXT/JSPS KAKENHI grant numbers JP17H06381, 4903 and 15H05384.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.M. and K.S. conceived and organized the project. S.B. obtained funding and directed the project. K.S. undertook the use-wear analysis with S.A. as well as the morphometric analysis. C.S., G.B. and L.V. performed the residue analysis. D.A. conducted the experiment to produce Uluzzian backed pieces. I.F., M.G. and A.T. provided data on the exploitation of feathers. F.B., J.C. and P.B. presented the results of the zooarchaeological analysis. K.S., C.S., V.S., S.R. and I.F. made the figures and illustrations. D.A., F.B., A.R. and A.M. provided permits for the analysis of the archaeological samples and expertise on the site sequences and materials. K.S., C.S., A.R., A.M. and S.B. wrote the manuscript with contributions from all co-authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katsuhiro Sano.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–10, Tables 1–4, notes and references.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sano, K., Arrighi, S., Stani, C. et al. The earliest evidence for mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1409–1414 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0990-3

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing